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NAMIBIA HISTORY BATTLE OF WATERBERG (Part2) 12 August: The Herero Nation Follow Their Leaders Into The Omaheke Desert.
Deimling's disregard of his orders had nearly cost the Germans the


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Battle of Waterberg  Pt 2 - 12 August 1904

The events related here are a continuation of the Battle of Waterberg  page 1.


12 August: The Herero Nation Follow Their Leaders Into The Omaheke Desert.

Deimling's disregard of his orders had nearly cost the Germans the day and had most certainly robbed his superior of the outright victory that was sought. Very early on the morning of the 12th he advanced on Hamakari, one day late. The impending arrival of such a large contingent of German reinforcements dealt a much needed psychological blow to the Hereros and from the top of the Waterberg the Heliograph crew could see them pouring away from the field of battle in a south easterly direction.


Von Trotha had failed to destroy the Herero force on the 11th, but he had broken their resistance to a degree that even he did not appreciate, and he had come to realise that Samuel Maharero preferred to flee rather than surrender. Von Trotha was also of the consideration that once the Hereros had gained safe distance they might regroup and return to do battle. The German soldiers were exhausted and needed some time to recover, so he allowed them to rest on the 12th.


13 August:

Deimling and Von Muhlenfels sections began moving east in pursuit of the main body of fleeing Hereros. The entire surrounding area of the Waterberg had been grazed-out by the Herero animals and the German horses and draft animals had not been fed since 10th. The 30km march to Ombujo-Wakune followed a trail that had been heavily trampled by the Herero and their livestock. The air was thick with fine dust and the Germans suffered greatly. Whenever they reached a waterhole at they found them choked with dead Herero stock. By midnight of the 13th the Germans decided to return to Hamakari. It was not possible, at this stage, to continue the pursuit. The retreat was slow and difficult, the soldiers walked alongside their horses to spare them, many of the draft animals pulled their loads until they collapsed and died soon after.


14 August: At about 13h00 the exhausted soldiers arrived at the waterholes at Hamakari. General Von Trotha wrote in his diary that night: "I am dead tired. Haven't slept for four nights and yesterday and today twelve hours in the saddle. Washed my hands for the first time in four days, they look dreadful."


16 August: The uprising of the Herero had firmly implanted in Von Trotha's mind the belief that Germans, civilian or military would neither be safe or able to develop the colony successfully as long as the threat of further dissidence existed. His plan was that the Herero, as a nation, should leave the German Protectorate, and relocate in British Bechuanaland, by means of force if necessary. Those who resisted should be killed.


21 August: Von Trotha placed a price of 5,000 Marks on Samuel Mahahrero's head and 1,000 Marks on any other Herero headmen.


30 September: Von Trotha wrote in his diary, "There is a lack of water for man and beast, horses die of the rampant horse sickness, the climate is barbarous, ice cold horrible wind, many, myself included, suffer from a miserable headache." At the end of this day he decided to cease the pursuit of the Herero across the unforgiving Omaheke. The incidence of typhoid amongst the men has risen steadily since the 11 August and the horses and mules were dying of thirst.

But what of the Herero? The month of August lays deep in the Namibian winter. There are times when the east wind blows icily from across the Kalahari. The days can be warm, but night temperatures plunge below zero. The grasses of the great savannahs are thirsty and burned a light biscuit brown. It is the time when animals and man begin the wait for the next rains that might, in a good year, bring some relief in November. The level of the water holes becomes lower by the day.


The flight into the Omaheke:

To the east of the Waterberg lays the bush for nearly 200km before melting into the wilderness of the Omaheke Desert and this was the route that the Herero took to escape being captured by their enemy, but refuge in British Bechuanaland (Botswana) would prove to be an unobtainable goal for the vast majority.


The women with the children and livestock fled ahead of the men who took the 'rear-guard'. The route to the east followed the sparse chain of water holes that lacked the capacity to quench the thirst of a nation in flight along with its horses and cattle herds. Soon the waterholes were choked with the carcasses of dead animals and rendered useless for any followers and closing down the path of return. But continue they must, for behind them came the Germans who hunted them down with gun, bayonet and club.


The sheer volume of people in a dazed panic moving along with their bewildered animals soon began to fail. The elderly and the young, along with the infirm and sick soon fell by the dry and dusty wayside, and within a few days the strong grew weaker and they too began to die, and the scavengers of Africa's plains began their task of clearing up the bodies of those who succumbed and of those too weak to resist. By the end of 1905, some 17 months later, the British authorities recorded that only 1,175 Herero had made it through the Omaheke to claim sanctuary in Bechuanaland.


  2nd October Vernichtungsbefehl   (Extermination Order):  It was on this day that the German troops were addressed by

General Von Trotha

General Von Trotha


General von Trotha who read to them the following proclamation: "I, the great general of the German soldiers, send this letter to the Herero nation. The Hereros are no longer German subjects. They have murdered and stolen and cut of the noses and ears and other members of the bodies of wounded soldiers. Now they are too cowardly to continue fighting. I say to the nation: Every person who delivers one of the captains as a captive to a military post, will receive 1,000 Marks. The one who hands over Samuel Maharero will receive 5,000 Marks. All Hereros must leave the country (German South West Africa). If they do not do so, I will force them with cannons to do so. Within the German borders every Herero, with or without weapons, with or without cattle, will be shot. I no longer shelter women and children. They must either return to their people or they will be shot at. This is my message to the Herero nation."


With this letter Von Trotha issued a proclamation to the German troops explaining that any soldier who captured a Herero captain would be rewarded. Instructions were given that Herero men were to be shot, but the troops were to fire over the heads of Herero women and children to force them to flee. No atrocities should be committed on women and children, and that the troops were to maintain the good reputation of the German soldier.


Kaiser Wilhelm II

Kaiser Wilhelm 2nd fully supported his general's solution to the Herero problem and following the battles at Waterberg wrote a congratulatory letter to his general, " I hereby readily state that you fully justified my confidence in your insight and warfare which prompted me to appoint you Commander of the Schutztruppe for South West Africa in difficult times. I wish to confirm my Imperial gratitude and my warm appreciation for your outstanding achievements by awarding you the Order Pour le Merite."


The Imperial Chancellor Count Von Bulow along with senior members of the Colonial Department


 in Berlin were shocked when they heard of Von Trotha's 'Extermination Order'. Von Bulow contacted the Kaiser requesting that the order be revoked adding that Von Trotha's order was impractical and crime against humanity. Also  "If the rebellious natives where annihilated or expelled, this would seriously undermine the potential for development." and that it would be, "demeaning to our standard among the civilized nations of the world."


But it was only following reports and pressure from the Rhenish Missionary Society regarding the German Army's extermination activities in South West Africa, and not until 9 November 1904 that Berlin ordered General von Trotha to, "spare the lives of all Hereros, except the lives of the leaders and those directly guilty." These words surely confirm that Berlin had initially approved of von Trotha's vernichtungsbefel.


The Cost - German: The fragile economy of the colony almost collapsed completely. Cattle farming and trading companies were pushed to the edge of bankruptcy. The losses of the colonists and of the indigenous peoples who stayed loyal to the German cause was estimated to be some 7,385,000 Mark. About 2,500 Germans were killed in total. In the first 6 months of the conflict 43 German farmers were killed plus their farm labourers. 34 Traders were killed. The Marine-Expeditionkorps lost over 100 men and below is a table of Army losses between January 1904 and March 1907


  Officers Men Total
Dead 62 614 676
Missing 2 74 76
Wounded 89 818 907
Total 153 1506 1659
Died of disease 26 663 689
    Total 2348

The Cost - African: Nobody really knows as to how many Hereros perished during the uprising.

The estimates of the Herero population before the conflict vary:

(1)  In 1874 the Rhenish Missionary, Reverend Irle claimed there were between 70,000 to 80,000 Hereroes and a further 20,000 Mbanderu. This was based on hearsay and followed by a guess.

(2) In 1876 The British Special Commissioner To Tribes North of the Orange River W. Coates Palgrave spent some time in 'Namibia' and reported that there were about 73,000 Hereos and 13,000 Mbanderus. At no time did Palgrave undertake any form of census, his report being founded on that of the Missionaries.

(3) In 1895 The Germans were steadily increasing and organizing the knowledge base of their colony when Lt. Eggers submitted his account that there were a total of some 45,000 Hereros under Maharero at Okahandja and a Kambazembi at the Waterberg.

(4) In 1902 Oberleutnant Streiwolf estimated Maharero to have 15,000 followers and Kambazembi to have only 8,000; making a total of 23,000

(5) In May 1904 according to Governor Leutwein there were about 60,000 Hereros.


Following the Herero - Nama war Dr. Paul Rohrbach the German commissioner for colonization gave the lower estimation of a probable 40,000 Hereros along with their 60,000 cattle.


The Herero arrived at the Waterberg towards the end of an exceptionally good rainy season. Von Trotha writes that by August the land had been grazed-out by the Herero cattle. The nagging question is. "Would the waterholes have been able to supply enough water for 80,000 people plus all of their live-stock from the month of April to August?"

 but was it possible to accommodate all of these people plus their live-stock at the Waterberg in the non-rainy season.

Samuel Maharero: The distance, 'as the crow flies' from the Waterberg to the village of Tsau, just north of Lake Ngami in north western British Bechuanaland (Botswana) is about 620km, and it was to here that Samuel Maharero with a small and loyal group were reported to have arrived in early December 1904. By August of the following year there numbers had swelled to about 200, including 75 men. The British recorded that by the end of 1905 a total of 1,175 Hereros had settled in Bechuanaland.


Samuel lived as an exile at Tsau  until 1907 from where he moved to the Transvaal settling on the farm Groenfontein, about 112km north-west of Potgietersrus. In 1913 the Native Land Act was passed in South Africa which prevented blacks from living outside of an existing Bantu reserved area. Groenfontein was directly affected and Samuel had to move to to Werkendam near Nylstroom. In 1919 Samuel asked the Authorities at Mafeking for permission to return and reside in Bechuanaland. In 1922

Samuel along with a small group of his loyal subjects settled at Mahalapye in the Ngwato reserve. For last remaining few months of his life he lived in Serowe, where he died on 14 March 1923. His body was eventually transferred to Okahandja where he was buried on 26 August 1923. The reverend Dr. Vedder held the service.


The Prisoners of War:

By the 11 January 1905, and one year from Samuel Maharero's announcement for hostilities to begin the Germans had taken prisoner 8,889 Herero men, women and children. Those captured were branded with the letters GH (gefangene Herero). The physical condition of virtually all of the Hereros taken captive was poor owing to the ordeal they had suffered. The conditions in the concentration / labour camps were a death warrant for the majority. Many were shipped south to work as slave labour on the Luderitz - Keetmanshoop railway line. The deaths of the Herero camp inmates is not recorded, but of the 1,800 Hottentot (Nama) prisoners transferred to the Shark Island (Luderitz) camp only 245 survived.


The Hereros Who Survived:

(1). Apart from those taken into captivity as Prisoner of War the Rhenish Missionary Society had brought in as many as 12,500 from the veld.

(2). An estimated 800 to 1,000 sought shelter within the British enclave of Walvis Bay.

(3). It is not known how many Hereros made their way into British Bechuanaland (Botswana) figures range from 1,175 to 5,000.

(4). An unknown number remained in German South West Africa undetected.

(5). German Government records showed that in 1912 as many as 19,721 Hereros were living within the borders of the Protectorate.


The Question Of Genocide ? The counting of Africa's dead, even in modern times, appears to be an exercise that would confound the best of arithmeticians. The recent systematic starvation to death and murder of some 1 million Sudanese failed to be categorized as Genocide by the African Nations, which could prompt us to question, "Of what value is an African life when killed by an African, as opposed to that when killed by a non-African?


Whether the number who perished at the Waterberg and during the following flight into the Omaheke was 60,000 or less is debatable, but there can be no denial that the Herero as a Nation of people along with their culture and great cattle herds had been cruelly and systematically destroyed, and their lands parceled off as booty. But this was an event that happened in 'Darkest Africa', and was far removed from the fashionable coffee salons of Berlin's Kurfurstendamm. But, within the short period of 40 years, and much closer to 'The Fatherland', the crematoriums at dozens of German death camps throughout Eastern Europe were working hard and efficiently in an attempt to conceal the evidence of yet another and even greater holocaust.



Namibia's Unknown Soldier

Namibia's Unknown Soldier

German Grave Yard At Waterberg

German Grave Yard at Waterberg

Namibia's Heroes' Acre Windhoek

Heroes' Acre Memorial at Windhoek



The German graveyard of the soldiers who fell in combat at the Waterberg remains the only onsite testament that a battle was fought there.

The Hereros who died on the field of battle along with those who succumbed of thirst and hunger in the wilderness of the Omaheke Desert are befittingly remembered at the Namibian National Memorial in Windhoek - Heroes' Acre. The beautiful bronze mural depicts their struggle as a nation of freedom fighters against a terrible and oppressive foe. The site of eternal flame at the Heroes' Acre Memorial is the place to which present and future generations of Namibians can visit, say a short prayer, and contemplate that we as a species, and with an alarming regularity fail in our humanity towards our fellow man. A shortcoming that we must strive hard against.


  Battle of Waterberg 1


Acknowledgements and further reading:  H6,  H7, P1, P2,

Otjiwaorngo Area Attractions and Articles of Similar Interest


Herero Uprising

Battle Otjihaenamaparero

Dinosaur Tracks


Battle of Waterberg

Heroes Acre Memorial


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